I have found the most magnificent place, although you wouldn’t think from its name. Smith Rock State Park. We ended up there almost by accident, and have had a wonderful 10 days of camping, climbing and new friends.
We were going to skip out on the van gathering Descend on Bend and head straight to California. Then I got an email from Poseidon’s Beard talking about “the greatest van gathering of our time.” He spoke about a couple en route to Bend, “leaving their farm in the woods … never driving on a highway….”
These are our people! We had to go.
So with 2 weeks until the gathering, Pat picked up some temporary work in a metallurgy lab in the town of Redmond. Good pay, but the town didn’t seem too appealing on first glance. Lots of big department stores and industrial buildings. I had to figure out where we would stay for 2 weeks and find fun things to do with the kids. The lady at the temping agency said check out Smith Rock. We arrived to an amazing huge rock face, beautiful blooming juniper trees, a canal, great hiking and a $5 per night campground with flush toilets and hot showers! I was so pleased. I walked around with a huge grin thinking “I never want to stop traveling, I’m determined to make this work, this is too good!”
We made friends with a cool Canadian family who let us use their gear and took us climbing on “Rope de Dope.”
In fact, most people who camp there are climbers. They wear bright Patagonia puffer jackets, have drink bottles with stickers all over them and drive subarus. One night two people walked into camp wearing felt top hats and blanket ponchos. They had long sticks of plaited sage sticking out of there back packs and carried small suitcases. They looked like they’d been traveling awhile. Like they hadn’t had to scrub off a summer of festivals for work. They walked with a quiet confidence. Sure enough, that night just as the kids had fallen asleep, I heard a fiddle. People in the common area started to laugh and cheer, they must have been dancing. I sat alone in the tent listening, Pat was working nightshift. The fiddle was so beautiful it was pulling on my heart strings. It made me think of the pied piper, with its seducing melodies. A moth to a flame. I got up the next morning hoping to met the gypsies. They were gone.
I took the girls on a hike armed with a Smith Rock guide I found in the free library and enough water and snacks to last all day. We spent five hours doing a one hour hike because we spent so long observing five river otters, two bald eagles. We also picked herbs, flowers and sage brush bark to make rope with. And we got off the beaten path bouldering, (which means rock climbing without a harness,) over the big rocks that were between the bivouac and canal. We did a hard climb up to the campground and I couldn’t have got Molly up there without Ellie and Celia’s help.
Finally it was my turn to do the hard bit and Celia encouraged me the whole time, “You can do it mum!”
We overshot the campground and landed next to a farm. We ending up finding all sorts of bones and feathers, we kept walking, me secretly not knowing where we were and the girls silently following me.
Relieved, we arrived back at camp and there was no one around except a woman washing her dog (or was it a cat) in the sink where everyone does their dishes. We walked over, it was indeed a cat and it was having a bubble bath. “Why are you washing your cat?” I asked her non chalantley, like I was asking her where she was from or how long she’d been traveling. “Oh he’s all dusty!” she replied, then went on to tell me, with tears in her eyes, how 5 days ago she dragged him down the road tied to her camper. He had been her travel companion for 15 years and had climbed mountains with her. She had feigned off a bobcat to protect him, using cat language. This lady and the bobcat had hissed back and forth until the bobcat had ran away. After listening to her stories I went to the bathroom and saw in the mirror that I had sticks all through my hair and soot on my face. The crazy cat lady must have thought I was crazy.
It was such a busy spot. We never knew who would turn up next.
A few characters who come to mind are Garett, the loud Native American millionaire from Kansas, self proclaimed fat surfer, who now lives in the Florida Keys. Camp is not the same with out you Garret. Don’t worry about waking us up that one night when you got in a fight with a Juniper tree. Thanks for all the free shit. And Karl. Talkative, very tall, in his mid 50’s. Brimming with information and anecdotes. Biologist and conservationalist. He is thoughtful and loves to laugh. Karl is the only person who camps at Smith Rock in the middle of winter, when he cross country skis. He has seen over 100 Cougars in the wild and showed me pictures of one near Smith Rock. Thanks for all the great advice Karl.
And there was this middle aged French guy, waving his arms around, who couldn’t believe we all lived in the bus. “But it’s not possible” he kept saying. Maybe it’s not possible but we’re doing it anyway.
So here I am trying to sum up these people in a few short words. I wonder how people view us after 10 nights at Smith Rock? Well last night I found out and it was like a smack in the face, a kick in the guts. A slash through my heart. We are known around camp, as “the Australian Partridge family.”